Use Rain Barrel Water Only for Ornamentals
Where does rain water from your water barrel come from? Most likely, from the roof. That "first flush" of roof water contains concentrated pollutants from the air as well as roofing material, according to a study from the Minnesota Department of Health. Julie Dieguez of the Maryland Association for Environment & Outdoor Education advises against using rain barrel water for edible plants. She and the study say it's a fine, sustainable option for flower and shrub beds.
Water, Water, Weed
At this point in the summer, your plants have developed extensive root systems. Over the next six weeks, they'll likely need additional deep watering to stay healthy and hydrated in the July/August heat. Remember to water the soil, not the leaves. Remove small weeds ASAP before they quickly grow and overtake the bed.
Check Container Plantings
The colorful sweet potato vine, bright verbena, floriferous Million Bells, dependable petunias, even shade-tolerant impatiens planted in pots earlier this year may be rootbound. If you're watering frequently and the container plants still look wilted, check the rootball. It may be so thick that water can't penetrate to reach the roots. Three suggestions: Gently tease out some of the roots, then move everything intact to a larger container. Or gently remove and toss the worst-looking plants and fill those spaces with good soil mix. Or gently separate some crowded annuals, then put them in a new spot or planter; be sure to add soil mix to those now-empty areas in the original pot.
Clip, Munch, And Come Again
If you enjoy cooked beet leaves, remove some leaves from beets in your veggie bed. Clipping off three or four healthy leaves from a beet plant won't hurt it, as long as you leave enough foliage to photosynthesize to keep the plant alive. Ditto with Swiss chard. No need to remove the whole plant; just cut off a few leaves now. More will grow.
Monitor for Diseases and Insects
Summer's an especially stressful time for plants. Too much heat and sun; too little water. Though they might have looked fine till now, their natural defenses are taxed. So check periodically for insects -- aphids, mites, thrips, leafhoppers, squash bugs, Japanese beetles -- and diseases. Treat any problem at first sight with the least toxic remedy before the problem gets out of control and requires more heavy-hitting measures.